My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts...
Doing No Harm was yet another clean romance by Carla Kelly with lots of emotions and “feel good” vibe. I generally love the setting and characters Ms. Kelly draws through her narration; so simple, yet so very complicated. But that is human nature I guess.
The year is 1816. Royal Navy’s one of the most esteemed surgeons Captain Douglas Bowden has seen it all, done it all in the decks of many ships he’d doctored over the past 25 years. Now in his late 30s, Douglas wants to say goodbye to it all. He’s decided to retire, find a small, peaceful place, start over as a village/town surgeon... maybe marry and have some kids and live that way for the rest of his life. Would that life was so simple! Even though the officials try to convince him to not to resign, citing that experts like Douglas are needed on a daily basis, Douglas is not listening to anyone. He wants peace. He wants quiet, because Douglas has been missing both for all his life.
Douglas’s father was a cooper. Living at the lower edges of society, Douglas had no future to speak of. He joined the navy at the age of 12 after his mother died. But Douglas was also brilliant and very hardworking, which saw him getting several big promotions over the years, ending up as the Captain. The glimpses of just how devoted he was to his work are given through his own monologues. Even though he’d earned a small fortune, which doubled with the help of a few clever investments, Douglas had no big dream. He wanted to live frugal as he always had, preferably somewhere not near the sea. He’s had enough of that for a lifetime. He can’t even sleep well because of the PTSD that haunts him every single night. Nightmares of war, of the patients he couldn’t save threaten to choke him but Duncan has no one turn to. That was until he met Olive Grant.
Now there in lies the ultimate story. Duncan didn’t want to be anywhere near the sea, but who was he kidding? He couldn’t live far from the sea anyway because the sea is in his blood. His quest for a perfect place to start over brings him to one of Scotland’s very small and poor, an almost forgotten village called Edgar, which once used to be a tourist destination. Duncan originally had no interest to stay there but for a few days. The shabby look, the overflow of poor, illiterate and very much unwanted Highlanders who were rooted out of their own lands where they lived for thousands of years, all because of the so called “Highland Clearances” (google it, or read the afterward, a very much historical fact), made Duncan want to be somewhere else pronto. However, on his very first day, the moment he stepped into Edgar, Duncan’s life changed irrevocably. For one, he gets his first patient while looking for Miss Grant’s famous tearoom. Not only he finally finds his way to the tearoom with a boy with broken leg in his arms, he also meets the famous Miss Grant, who, as Duncan would come to respect as the Kind Lady of Edgar.
Olive has been in Edgar all her life. It’s her hometown, and her deceased father being the Vicar, she was brought up to be responsible for whom she deem are her people. But it’s not all about responsibility. Olive loves the people of Edgar, which is such a small village that here, everyone knows everyone’s business. And everyone here certainly knows the Kind Lady who lets the older folks eat free meals every day. Who’d help anyone in need as soon as the word reaches her. She does whatever she can, however she can to help. And yet Olive doesn’t have a lot of money. Whatever she’d inherited from her father is about to run out and she doesn’t know how she’s going to carry on. She’s been doing everything on her own so long, yet sometimes, even a lonely, plain spinster wants someone to rely on. Wants to share her burden with someone special. Until one Douglas Bowden stepped into her life very unexpectedly, Olive too thought she stood alone in this world.
In the past, Olive has tried to help the Highlanders fallen on such hard times, but she’s only one person. The people still harbored the old superstitions, and no one wanted these poor, illiterate beings who have no special skills to speak of other than farming and herding kettle, which is not at all needed at a fishing village like Edgar. Hence, they couldn’t really eke out a livelihood. Even though some worked at the slowly running small fishing docks in the preparation of the fish that were brought there, many didn’t even have that. And it led some to drink copiously and act violently. You’d see some examples of that in the story, as Duncan has to deal with it firsthand. Olive wanted to help them but she had no idea what to do, how to go about it... where even to start. She wasn’t worldly, she didn’t know people who could help.
But when Douglas Bowden came in with a charming smile on his rough and tanned face, Olive knew he was a blessing to this little village. They needed a doctor so, so bad… but more so, they needed a savior. Douglas was all wrapped up in a tough, yet gentle package. Tough, because he could put up a front when it was needed; he had to while dealing with his patients, the dead and the dying. Gentle, because… well, you just have to read to know why I said it. Douglas is a gentleman inside and out, with a wry wit that brought smile to Olive’s face. Soon, even the thought of him would smiles on her face regularly. But he’d also made it certain everyone knew that he isn’t here to stay. But is it all that simple?
Douglas wanted to leave after treating the little boy who broke his leg... then he found this patient or that, with problems big and small, needing for his help badly. And it went on from there... Of course, Douglas would help no matter what, even if this wasn’t in his future plan to settle in such a shabby place with no hope of a respectable earning. Soon he was renting a place for himself, temporarily of course, so he could leave when this or that patient is finally healed. Would that life was that simple and not playing tricks on him! On the inside, Douglas knew he was falling in love with Edgar and it’s people... but most of all, one tall and curvy tearoom owner who has stolen his heart with her kind ways and her beautiful, soul-warming smile. He knew Olive Grant was as much his calling as his vocation but did she think of him that way? Douglas was scared to even entertain the notion. He wasn’t a goodlooking guy, he didn’t even think he could charm a lady (though everybody else thought the other way round) but would he make a good husband? A good father? Can Olive live with him and his thousand wartime demons for the rest of their lives?
Whatever was in his mind, soon Douglas was also taking charge of the Highlander problem. Not only he was man of hard work, Douglas was also used to taking charge effectively. It was in his nature, so no one questioned Douglas even once about his intentions. By then, even after Douglas’s repeated notice about his looming departure (mostly to convince himself he had to), everyone in Edgar was already calling him their Doctor. Their trust in him was unshakable. Even in his mind Douglas knew he’d already rooted in a place that would’ve never been in his original plan. Nope, life isn’t that simple after all.
The Highlanders thrown out of their lands were drowning into a sea of hopelessness. They were so poor, they couldn’t even make do sometimes. There are scenes here that’d simply gut you when you read about their misery but Douglas was determined to turn things around. And for that he started planning. Ever industrial, he finds jobs for little Highlander children who can make charms and wind chimes from sea shells to sell to a few tourists that still visited the village. The children were soon earning a tidy amount which not only gave them something to look forward to, but also returned the pride they lost when they were so humiliatingly booted out. The ones that were killed in that horrendous act probably were saved from that humiliation. Yet the ones that didn’t were still suffering from the nightmares, even the children.
All Highlanders are proud creatures, which was a reason why many of them suffered silently yet didn’t ask for help. Douglas and Olive even figured out a way to help those who were too proud to ask, without making them think they were taking charities. They’d work here and there, stuff they can do and Olive would feed them in return. These two were meant to be a team, no doubt about that! A plan forms again in Douglas’s mind about the shipbuilding business that fallen out of favor after the village lost many of its men either to war or to better propositions in bigger towns. They never returned and so, the dock sat abandoned. Douglas planned to bring the dry docks to its former glory, knowing he could do it with the help of a good shipwright. And he knew some good ones! He knew it’d be a long, trying road but he simply couldn’t sit there and watch these people suffer. Soon the town was turning its luck with their beloved Doctor’s help; someone who already was highly revered. Olive also got a good deal out of the newly formed Telford Boat Works as their official caterer, all thanks to Douglas.
At this point, quite a few months have passed instead of 2 that Douglas had originally planned on staying. It was time he left. He’d done all he could for Edgar, he isn’t needed anymore. But can he really leave behind these people and start somewhere anew? People whose lives have irreversibly entwined with his? Most importantly, does he even want to? And what of Miss Grant?
Funny thing is, Douglas probably knew how Olive felt about him. After all, they’d shared some fine kisses, however impulsive they were and enjoyed them to boot. Douglas wanted more, Olive also wanted more... but both were so unsure of one another’s feelings, no thanks to their own past. I’d say Douglas was more vulnerable, so he pushed Olive away a few times, which confused and hurt her. At 28, Olive knew she wasn’t the topnotch marriage material but after all they’ve been through, he must feel their mutual attraction? Yet she didn’t know if they indeed had a future together for quite a while.
Fortunately, in the end, all was figured out in the sweetest way possible, where both Douglas and Olive knew they’re happier and stronger together rather than apart, so it’d have been an idiocy to leave behind the love they’d never thought they’d find. Love do catch people unawares, that you find it in the most unexpected of places.
There’s no “bad” Carla Kelly novel in my eyes. In all, I enjoyed Doing No Harm as I do any Carla Kelly book, clean or otherwise. However, at times it felt that the dialogues of this story were a bit on the cheesy side. I don’t know, but I did roll my eyes here and there. I recommend it nonetheless if you’re looking to spend your time on a lonely afternoon doing some reading. 3.5 stars.
PS: I’m still not sure why the epilogue, a letter from Douglas to one of his friends and comrades, was set in 1987! :/ Was someone reading it in 1987? No idea. But it did catch me by surprise.